To the Mekong! (Bangkok to Laos)

BKK – Simplicity – To the Mekong!
One day before my 23rd birthday, I returned to my home away from home: Bangkok’s Khao San Road. When I first came to Bangkok I swore I would never return. The chaos overwhelmed me and convinced me it was a place I could only visit once. But Bangkok is the major transportation hub in SE Asia, so in six weeks I had passed through Bangkok four times.
After two and a half months of constant travel, Bangkok was the only place familiar to me. I’d befriended some odd characters: the Nepalese tailor, the Burmese t-shirt vendors, the lady-boy café-owners, the drunken, toothless, friendless Swede, and the dreadlocked, shell-shocked rambler whose crazy glare kept an uneasy peace over all the madness. I spent three days in Bangkok resting, recharging and celebrating my birthday in this quirky little slice of home.
I had changed since Burma; simplicity had become my new mantra. Long-term travel is an effective teacher of simplicity. Every unnecessary item in my bag had become a physical and mental encumbrance, so I hawked my gadgets, jettisoned my junk, and dropped my baggage weight by over 25%. I ripped out the necessary pages from my guidebook and tossed the rest in the bin.
The mantra of simplicity extends beyond the realm of the physical and into daily life. I have simplified my tastes to stay on budget, purchasing only four things each day: simple accommodation, water, local transportation, and two meals of street food per day. No restaurants, no beer, no air conditioning, no private bathrooms, no private buses and no souvenir t-shirts.
In three days I simplified belongings, rested, and reequipped myself for the journey ahead. In over seventy days I’d traveled from the concrete jungle of Singapore through the dense jungles of Malaysia, island hopped along the Thailand’s Andaman Coast, screamed through Bangkok, swept through western Thailand along the Thai-Burma border to Chiang Mai and Pai, b-lined it back to Bangkok to catch a flight to Yangon, wandered through the Shan Hills of Burma before finally returning to Bangkok for the fourth time. I had traveled far but I still had many rivers to cross.
The first was the Mekong River. I spent 24 consecutive hours on buses, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong, far in the north corner of Thailand back into the Golden Triangle.
By nightfall I arrived at the edge of Thailand on the banks of the Mekong River. From the Land of Smiles I stared across the muddy water to my next destination: Laos. Early the next morning I hopped in a longboat and sailed across the river, eager to see what lie ahead.
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